Midlands Chinese takeover: After Gary Rowett’s Birmingham City sacking how are WBA, Aston Villa and Wolves faring under new ownership?

St. Andew's Stadium Birmingam City

Birmingham City fans pinching themselves at being seventh in the Championship table with limited resources and finally rid of controversial owner Carson Yeung came back to reality with a bang this week, after the club announced the sacking of popular manager Gary Rowett.

Until then, things had been looking rosy in the St. Andrews garden. Rowett had steered them to a position outside the playoffs on goal difference alone thanks to a 2-1 win over Ipswich Town on Tuesday. Granted, the Blues had lost their two games prior to that (4-0 to Newcastle United and 3-0 to Barnsley) but Tuesday’s win appeared to have got the side back on track.

But instead of backing their manager in January to push for the playoffs, the club’s new owners Trillion Trophy Asia have shown him (and his backroom staff) the door. The company had only taken over earlier this year, and fans were gleeful that their unhappy ownership under Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung, who had owned them since 2009, had finally come to an end.

The hope was that Paul Suen – the man behind Trillion Trophy Asia – would bring stability to the club and back Rowett in the transfer market. Instead, Birmingham City appear to be in turmoil heading into a bumper festive fixture list, although they have made an early appointment of a new boss in the shape of ex-Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola.

Who are the new owners?

Company Name: Trillion Trophy Asia
Major Shareholder: Paul Suen Cho Hung
Made his money from: Corporate management and dealing with distressed stocks
Managerial changes: Rowett out, Zola in
Stated ambitions: “We will endeavour to do the best we can in order that Birmingham City, a club with a fine history and passionate support, continues to build on the progress it has made. We have not come in to make outlandish promises or to implement decisions that could cause upheaval.”

But Birmingham City aren’t the only Midlands club feeling their way under new Asian owners. Things may look grim for Birmingham fans right now, but in the rough geographical origins of their ownership they have something in common with neighbours West Brom, Aston Villa and Wolves…

West Bromwich Albion

Prior to their takeover West Bromwich Albion had Jeremy Peace running the club as chairman for 14 years, during which time the club were largely financially stable but something of a “yo-yo” club, forever bouncing between the Premier League and the Championship.

It was no secret that the parsimonious Peace was keen to sell up, and in August this year it was announced that the club would be taken over by the Chinese company Yunyi Guokai. For many, that seemed to spell the end for ever-more-unpopular manager Tony Pulis. After all, everyone knows that new owners always want a new manager (see Birmingham City for reference).

Pulis’ case was not helped by some dire football served up for the ever more restless West Brom natives. His penchant for stocking his team full of centre backs and functional midfielders in lieu of pace and creativity often brought understandable terrace ire.

But, as the winter nights began to draw in, the manager was given a contract extension instead of a P45. Aided by the form of summer signing Nacer Chadli (and by Salomon Rondon belatedly finding his feet as a Premier League performer) the football has shown some improvement – as have the results.

Who are the new owners?

Company Name: Yunyi Guokai Sports Development Ltd
Major Shareholder: Guochuan Lai
Made his money from: Landscape development and construction
Managerial changes: None, Tony Pulis awarded new contract
Stated ambitions: “My immediate priorities will be to maintain the club’s stable structure, respecting its well-run nature and its heritage.”

What happened next?

The Baggies are currently in the dizzying heights of 7th place. Clearly, there is potential for them to climb the table, if the new owners have the ambition. It will be interesting to see how much – if anything – owner Guochuan Lai invests in new players in January, as keeping Pulis on board has shown that “evolution not revolution” seems to be the way of things at the Hawthorns right now.

Aston Villa

The Villans are another club who welcomed their Chinese takeover. Life under Randy Lerner was rosy back when Martin O’Neill was spending money and leading Aston Villa on a charge towards the Champions League, but then things turned sour.

Years of relative under investment and poor managerial appointments saw the club relegated to the Championship last season. That blow saw Lerner relinquish control to Dr. Tony Xia. The Chinese businessman purports to be a Villa fan after watching them during his time studying at Oxford University, and he certainly says the right things (on Twitter, at least). 

Will they achieve Xia’s lofty ambitions? Perhaps not, but Villa fans won’t complain about finally having some ambition and enthusiasm from the boardroom.

Who are the new owners?

Company Name: Recon Group
Major Shareholder: Tony Xia
Made his money from: Entrepreneurship, he owns a multinational conglomerate
Managerial changes: Hired Roberto Di Matteo, sacked him, hired Steve Bruce
Stated ambitions: “The aim, not just the hope, is to get back into the European field within five years…in eight to ten years…that is not an exact number, but we want to win the European Cup.”

What happened next?

Like many relegated Premier League sides, Villa are finding it tough in the Championship. Xia spent around £50m assembling one of the strongest sides in the division, but got his choice of manager wrong.

Roberto Di Matteo may have a Champions League winners’ medal from his time in charge of Chelsea, but it’s been all downhill from there. The Italian looked out of his depth in the Championship, but his replacement by Steve Bruce could be a masterstroke.

In truth, Villa could still make the playoffs under Bruce’s tutelage. They’re 13th right now, but only seven points behind Leeds in that last playoff spot.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Things have gotten rather strange in Wolverhampton since Wolves‘ takeover by the Fosun Group. They’re already on their third manager of the season, while it’s still a bit odd to see Portuguese international Ivan Cavaleiro flying down the wing at Molineux.

Wolves have been through some tough times in recent years. After relegation from the Premier League they again fell swiftly into League One. Experienced manager Kenny Jackett got them back to the second tier and stabilised them there. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep his job under the new regime. He has every right to feel hard done by.

Fosun Group went for a big name replacement in the shape of Walter Zenga. Perhaps they were beguiled by the memory of him as the coolest goalkeeper at Italia ’90, because frankly his managerial record does not stand up to scrutiny. He didn’t last long at Molineux, with Wolves sliding down the table. He never lasts long anywhere.

Who are the new owners?

Company Name: Fosun Group
Major Shareholder: Guo Guangchang
Made his money from: Market reasearched, healthcare, and real estate
Managerial changes: Sacked Kenny Jackett, hired Walter Zenga, sacked him, hired Paul Lambert
Stated ambitions: “We want to be a very big and good club, in the Premier League and the world, and a world class club in the future.”

What happened next?

Zenga’s replacement is markedly less flashy, but has Championship nous. Paul Lambert’s reputation took a battering after a miserable time at Aston Villa, but it wasn’t that long ago that he was the next big thing in management. He impressed at Colchester and Norwich City, and maybe he will rediscover that magic at Wolves. With the club just two points clear of the relegation zone, he’ll need to do so quickly.

Undoubtedly the new owners will give him their backing in the transfer market, where “super agent” Jorge Mendes has a marked influence on signings. That’s not always a good thing – just ask any Valencia fan. What it does do, though, is give Wolves access to the kind of players they could previously only dream of.

Don’t necessarily expect West Brom style stability from their big rivals, but as Watford have shown, you can get to the Premier League without it.

Featured sourced from: The Stadium Guide via Flickr.

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  1. Midlands clubs Chinese takeovers: How are WBA, Birmingham City, Aston Villa and Wolves faring under new owners? | davidfoxwriting - December 19, 2016

    […] Want to know how things are going, and how the new owners made their money in the first place? You can read the full article here. […]

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